From an old hand who knows all the Pentagon players, yesterday: ‘Think of Iraq as scene one, act one – that changing the world’s behavior and attitude towards terrorism won’t be stopping at Iraq’s border. The fact that Syria is acting up so soon [I had asked him about Syria] only means that they are moving their own timetable up. Mid East peace, among other things, depends on Syria and Iran’s giving up their harboring, training and supporting terrorism.’

This appears to be our objective, and it could hardly be more noble or important: Wipe out terrorism, bring freedom and democracy to the Middle East, save ourselves and the world from the chaos and catastrophy of widely dispersed weapons of mass destruction in highly irresponsible, untraceable hands.

What dismays a lot of us is that we launched the war with so little backing from even our traditional allies . . . that many we thought would help us or at least stay neutral seem to be causing us difficulty at best, strapping on suicide belts at worst . . . and that we may wind up fighting an endless supply of religious fanatics who are actually eager to die – a very hard fight to win, even if entirely justified.

(For a sobering – and I hope exceptionally simple-minded – animation of what we’ve started, click here. You can skip the first couple of screens, which are neither funny nor informative, and then just let the battle unfold. The thing to keep in mind, I think, is that our leaders can be really intelligent and well-intentioned, as President Johnson and Robert McNamara were in the Viet Nam era, and still make judgments that produce terrible results.)

If the plan has all along been for Iraq to be ‘act one, scene one,’ were the American people adequately clued into that? I am reminded of the ‘tooth lengthening’ I was counseled to undergo a few years ago. My tooth wouldn’t literally be lengthened; my gum would be cut back, lengthening the exposed area that my dentist had to work with in attaching a crown. A tooth way, way in the back. And as the specialist was getting deeper and deeper into the procedure, which wound up involving a cleaver and tongs and a couple of hammers and an ice pick – and a lot of blood and grunting (his grunting, which alarmed me even more than my own) – I got both scared (‘Verbose Financial Writer Dies in Bizarre Tooth Lengthening Mishap’) and angry. Why hadn’t they told me what I was getting into? I might still have agreed it was necessary, but it would have been more democratic to involve me in the decision. I was paying for it, after all.

To all of which gloomy thinking a largely liberal college classmate of mine, who believes in the Bush vision, responds: ‘The citizens of France, 54% to 33%, want the U. S. to win the war. We’ll see how many enemies we have. I think freedom will again win over the fellow-travelers of totalitarianism, and will bring most persons everywhere – even in Arabia – along because it is in their own best interest.’

I totally hope my classmate and the Bush Administration are right. (Even so, I cannot believe a more sensitive diplomacy for the last two years would not have allowed us to proceed with broader support.) But the Holy War part of it gives me special pause. Religious hatreds, once enflamed, are not easily extinguished. Sure we’re the good guys. But if a billion Muslims don’t see it that way, we still have a gigantic problem and will need all the good will we can get – which is why I wish we hadn’t alienated so many people in the cavalier way we killed the Kyoto Protocol and other treaties, backed out of the Mid East and Korean peace processes, and showed contempt for the UN before belatedly deciding to seek its support.

For those worried about Holy War – and even about the erosion of the separation of church and state – this item from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation will bring little comfort. (‘US soldiers in Iraq asked to pray for Bush . . . Thousands of marines have been given a pamphlet called ‘A Christian’s Duty,’ a mini prayer book which includes a tear-out section to be mailed to the White House pledging the soldier who sends it in has been praying for Bush.’)

All that being said, I think Andy Rooney’s conclusion to this week’s commentary may have said it best: ‘I wish my America had never gotten into this war, but now that we’re in it, I want us to win it.’



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